(Above: The end of sophomore year. Someone please get this kid a haircut.)
The first full week of June 1984 would have meant the start of summer vacation. I had just completed my sophomore year at Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park. The bulk of my daytime activity that summer involved something that seems so foreign to me now that it looks weird in print: riding my bike to Catalina Park to play pickup baseball games with a bunch of guys from school. 1984 was the last summer vacation where I didn’t have a driver’s license, so my Schwinn was the reliable way across town. I loved to play ball: I almost – ALMOST – made the sophomore squad at Andrew, but wasn’t quite good enough. They almost put me on the team because I was fast and could read pitcher movements to steal bases. I think I weighed about a buck-35 at this point; if you saw me now, “sprinter” would not be the first word to come to your mind. But I could run, and could hit a little bit with little to no power. Our baseball field faced a tennis court, and an automatic home run had to clear the double-height fence and land in the court. We played hardball, so those playing tennis had to be sensitive to a “Heads up!” from us if someone clocked one over the wall. Since I didn’t have the strength, I just dumped the ball into the outfield and ran like hell.
My nighttime activity involved my record collection. This was probably the first time I really began to see myself as a collector more than just “someone with some records” or “someone who likes music.” My folks separated during the school year, and I think that because of that my mother was a little more indulgent of my fifteen year mood swings: as a result, no questions were raised when I announced an intention to haul my records, my Intellivision, and most of my stuff down to the unfinished basement and spend evenings down there awake until three and four in the morning. Most of that time was spent listening to tunes through a giant set of brown Koss headphones that my parents abandoned and that I stealthily blended into my own things. (I’d love to find a set of those today; when you wore them, you heard nothing else as they were massive.)
Musically, I was still all over the map. I was just as likely to play an album like Todd Rundgren’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect or Joan Jett’s Album (I will defend that one hard. Don’t @ me.) as I was to have the radio on. August of 1984 saw Chicago’s WJEZ become WJMK – “Magic 104” – where I would later work on the air but would have absolutely no way of knowing that at the time. In the first few months WJMK would play currents in with the oldies, calling them “future gold.” They abandoned the practice within a few months. As I liked some new stuff, I didn’t mind so much.
As far as contemporary music went, I was likely tuned in to WLS-FM or WKQX. WLS-AM still got my attention as well if I was relegated to a portable radio on the bike. The songs that they would have been playing this week? Well, there’s some pretty good stuff on this list. Let’s start at the bottom (as we always do):
100. Yes – “Leave It.” I didn’t have a way to run cable TV to the basement, so there was no MTV. When I could get the upstairs TV, I’d watch it – and this video always caught my attention.
99. Weird Al Yankovic – “King of Suede.” I love Weird Al, and yet I never thought this one was one of the better parodies. It’s not like The Police didn’t need to be parodied, either; this one just misses the mark a bit.
98. Hall and Oates – “Adult Education.” Damn, the bottom of this chart is solid.
97. The Eurythmics – “Here Comes the Rain Again.” REALLY solid.
96. The Pretenders – “Show Me.” OK, I’m beginning to have some angst about “where are all these songs?” They were legitimate hits that sounded good on the radio, and yet you don’t hear them much anymore.
92. INXS – “Original Sin.” I completely missed this the first time around. There were a few kids in my class who, in retrospect, had great taste in music and knew about records that I should have been listening to. This was one of them. I didn’t catch up until college radio, which would be three years from now.
90. The Alan Parsons Project – “Don’t Answer Me.” Fantastic video, and a production value that satisfied my taste for anything that sounded like Phil Spector was involved.
88. Newcleus – “Jam On It.“ Before we used them as websites, a wiki was a noise that you made along with early hip-hop music. There were a few kids at Andrew that fancied themselves as break dancers, and the school paper did an article on the fad in the spring of 1984 that I wish I still had.
82. Def Leppard – “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak.” I’ll freely admit never needing to hear anything off of Hysteria ever again. Ever. This song, though, does not get nearly enough airplay for my taste. It’s debuting on the charts this week.
77. Tracey Ullman – “They Don’t Know.” A guilty pleasure record that I will always turn up just a bit.
72. Face To Face – “10-9-8.” This is an oh-wow that I remember getting airplay in Chicago, but I can’t remember on which station. I know I heard it a lot that summer.
65. Nik Kershaw – “Wouldn’t It Be Good.” This is another one that got the ess-h-eye-tee played out of it in college.
63. Laid Back – “White Horse.” I can’t hear this song and not hear the woman yelling “Are you Don Geronimo?” over the top of it. Don was on B-96 at the time, and used that drop over the intro of this record all the time. I haven’t heard it in probably thirty years.
52. Kenny Loggins – “Footloose.” I don’t need to hear it again, and it’s picked up alternate lyrics after so many plays on Sirius XM’s 80s channel. “Been workin’ so hard/I’m punchin’ my clown.”
49. Elton John – “Sad Songs (Say So Much).” Am I hallucinating, or did Sir Elton sing this as Sasson in a commercial around that time? UPDATE: I wasn’t hallucinating. I can’t find the video, but this 1984 NYT article proves that I didn’t dream it.
44. The Go-Gos – “Head Over Heels.” Loved – LOVED – this record. I made sure to play the video when I became a VJ on the Lewis Television Network – and then promptly made fun of the video, which earns it.
41. The Cars – “You Might Think.” I think this one every video award there was at the time, and it looks really, really dated now. But Heartbeat City dominated both radio and basement airplay that summer.
Into the Top 40 we go:
40. Styx – “Music Time.” This is a fantastic record that doesn’t get enough airplay, and is still very relevant today. “I like big things/Who cares about the quality?” Indeed.
37. Icicle Works – “Whisper to a Scream.” Totally missed this the first time around, but became much more familiar with the band three years later in college when “Understanding Jane” came out.
32. The Thompson Twins – “Doctor! Doctor!” They are also at #42 with “Hold Me Now,” and were all over the radio at the beginning of summer. I saw them as a sort of musical mayonnaise; the songs just sort of laid there, and caused no reaction at all either way.
31. Wang Chung – “Dance Hall Days.” The drum beat is infectious, and the video much less likely to cause seizures than “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” (I’m not kidding; that happened.)
29. The Style Council – “My Ever Changing Moods.” There’s no way I was noticing this one in 1984 (see above, “INXS”) but made up for it later. What a great record this is.
27. Van Stephenson – “Modern Day Delilah.” Can a pop chart be this good again soon?
26. The Cars – “Magic.” “He’s walking on the pool? How do they DO that?” Well, they count on us being simple and having small screens, that’s how.
23. Slade – “Run Runaway.” This is another song that I love for no particularly good reason other than that it’s fun. See, chameleon? Lying there in the sun? All things to everyone. I have no idea, either, and yet I did not have to look that up anywhere.
22. Chicago – “Stay the Night.” I’m not sure this video gets made in 2018.
21. Billy Joel – “The Longest Time.” At some point in 1984 I saw two concerts: Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. Joel was the first of the bunch. I had been familiar with his music since my parents purchased The Stranger on 8-track (complete with annoying fade in the middle of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”). The concert and popularity of An Innocent Man resulted in me looking for other old Joel LPs. I was probably the only 15-year-old in the suburbs sitting in the basement listening to “Captain Jack” that summer.
18. Billy Idol – “Eyes Without a Face.” There was a guy in high school who had an odd speech impediment, and I recall being able to do this song in his voice. No, we weren’t always nice as teenagers.
17. Joe Jackson – “You Can’t Get What You Want.” Speaking of doing impressions – get me a beer and you’ll hear this one.
16. Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson – “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” I’m impressed that we had to get this far into the chart before hitting a huge clunker. It’s not that the song is necessarily awful, it’s just that it hasn’t aged very well. It’s hard to imagine that this and INXS were on the same radio station.
15. Culture Club – “It’s a Miracle.” It wasn’t cool to like this band, but try and tell me that their songs aren’t unbelievably catchy.
14. Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing In the Dark.” The video that introduced us to Courteney Cox.
13. Van Halen – “I’ll Wait.” Of course 1984 came out that year, and it was an LP that got a lot of play in my house. You couldn’t be a suburban kid and not own it; it was as if they issued it through the mail or something.
12. Phil Collins – “Against All Odds.” I’ve been skipping over the “sock hop” songs. “Almost Paradise” is on this chart. There was no dating for me in 1984; I had, up to this point, gone to one school dance, and that didn’t lead to any blossoming romance as a result. So, these were just yucky songs that you turned off until something good came on. It’s not that I didn’t notice girls; they would often come to the park and watch us play ball. It’s more that I genuinely had nothing to talk to them about, since baseball and old records were the extent of my vernacular at this point.
11. Madonna – “Borderline.” Yes, there was a Madonna poster in my room. And yes, after I saw the rather hairy Penthouse spread a year later I got rid of it. That doesn’t change the fact that this song is catchy.
Into the Top 10 we go – so far, so good…
10. The Pointer Sisters – “Jump (For My Love).” They added the parenthetical title so that you don’t confuse them with Van Halen. The more you know.
9. Laura Branigan – “Self Control.” We always get to hear “Gloria” and never this one. That should be fixed.
8. Irene Cara – “Breakdance.” I have to admit, I can’t hum this one nor did I realize that it charted this high.
7. Lionel Richie – “Hello.” You’ll never look at a lump of clay the same way again.
6. Huey Lewis and the News – “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” There were custom versions of this done for cities not represented in the list of cities on the original record. I think WMET had the version that added “Chicago! Kansas City!” in a random place. I haven’t heard it that way in years, and if you have such a custom version, please drop me a line.
5. Night Ranger – “Sister Christian.” I will never not listen to this song all the way through. Friends of mine from high school could better share the story of the bass drum in Andrew’s orchestra room that got the head sliced while someone was trying to re-create this drum part. No, I was not there, but I know the story.
4. Duran Duran – “The Reflex.” I think I had tired of the band long before this record came out, and then rediscovered it sometime in the 90s and put it back into my personal rotation. It’s mindless fun.
3. Steve Perry – “Oh Sherrie.” You think you had it rough? Imagine being a girl named Sherry/Sherrie/Cheri/however it was spelled in the summer of 1984, having this warbled at you all the damned time. Points added for the medieval theme to the video.
2. Deniece Williams – “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.” For all the attention that Footloose soundtrack still gets, I rarely hear this one. Points subtracted for the oddly-inserted break dancing at the end of the video to cash in on the fad (though still not as awkward as Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”).
And, and #1 this week – it’s Cyndi Lauper – “Time After Time.” Slow songs sell, and if this is the slowest we go on the chart, it’s still pretty solid. I’m guessing at least most high schools involved this in a prom theme that year in some way, although I was nowhere near attending prom, so I could have not possibly cared less about such things.
Man, is this a great chart. Now on the to-do list for the upcoming school year is to build a 1984 playlist for my office, since there are much, much worse soundtracks one could have.